14 April, 2024


Entertainment & Intellectual Activity In Jaffna – The Ramanathan Lectures

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Recent Issues in Jaffna

I have generally complained that Jaffna affords little room for entertainment or cultural expression. Just this week, as reported in the press, 2 lawyers had been arrested and let off on bail for writing land deeds. One Gauthaman had written the same land through three different transactions on the same day. Others about to be charged were out on anticipatory bail. Shocking was that well known lawyers Dr. Kumaravadivel Guruparan (Jaffna University’s former Head/Law), Thirukumaran (the brother of the former Mayor V. Manivannan), Sayanthan (MA Sumanthiran’s junior in Jaffna) and Celestine (a friend) met President Wickremesinghe objecting to these arrests and threatening to subject the police to harsh cross examination should they proceed.

They argued that a policeman does not have the capacity to tell whether a deed is dishonest or not. Rubbish! When the same land is written three times during the same day, we need no expert to tell us that something is crooked. Indeed, when someone other than the owner sells a plot without the authority of the owner, again we know that crookery is at work. Wickremesinghe refused but agreed to let the Attorney General Review police decisions to charge lawyers. That was a win for criminal lawyers (no pun intended), and was intellectually something to think about, certainly how lawyers crossed party lines when their or their friends’ wheeler-dealer income was threatened.

On the entertainment front, last Friday India had a Bharatha Natyam show and I had marked on my calendar but forgot because there is usually little new. It is usually the same old dance to which I go because someone known is performing or my wife likes the arts the music. The only time I really enjoyed Bharatha Natyam was on a TV programme in Singapore that was a study of dance and the exponent explained what the hand symbols mean including one inviting god to have sex with the artiste. The symbol was very close to the hand signals schoolboys use to say F*CK OFF. So it seemed that my classmate who did this to our teacher at St.John’s was highly educated in art forms. The teacher himself, V.R. Amarasingham, unexpectedly turned from the blackboard and saw this gesture only to nod at our classmate. No punishment was given thereby increasing manyfold the respect with which we beheld him.

Two Intellectually Vigorous Talks

A rare but truly improved intellectually stimulating event we had in Jaffna was on 20 March 2024 when University of Jaffna had two memorial lectures back to back – one honoring Sir P. Ramanathan and the other Lady Leelawathy Ramanathan. The speakers and their topics are shown in the image of their talk booklets close by.

The two speakers were women-professors of high eminence and serve as excellent role models to the women of Jaffna.

Prof. Gillian Juleff of Exeter

Prof. Juleff is an archaeologist working on metallurgy and is able to pull diverse fields together into discovering ancient history to support her conclusions in archaeology from field work – e.g., computational fluid dynamics, religious history etc.. She has a single-author cover story in Nature, a journal that many would give an arm and leg to get into.

Prof. Juleff’s work delves into excavated furnaces from Samanalawewa which she then reconstructed to conclude on their engineering principles. These span from the second century BC to the fourth century AD and then again after a lull from the 6th to 11th centuries AD where the furnace sites in the Samanalawewa hills exploit the Monsoon wind to drive the fires. She carefully words these as coming from a Buddhist culture, leaving open that it was from a Tamil culture like at Kantharodai (which Tamils are unable to claim as ours after insisting we were always Saivites (despite no mention of Siva in the Sangam literature) and never Buddhists (despite Manimekalai). Prof. S. Pathmanathan’s weekly Sunday features in Virakesari, hopefully, will put this right.

The After-talk Tea-party, L to R: Dean Arts S. Raguram, VC/Jaffna Srisatkunarajah, Author, Prof. Gillian Juleff, and Prof.Farzana Haniffa. (I am repeating something I have written before because the anti-Christian culture of the university persists despite VC Srisatkunarajah trying to rectify it).
The Board of VCs seen above the Dean now lists all the VCs of Jaffna including me. I am not invited when other former VC’s are invited. For, when the Court Ordered that I was VC and asked that I be paid and listed, the then VC Vasanthi Arasaratnam took that Board down saying, “for repairs.” It took Srisatkunarajah to follow the court order and list this writer as a former VC. Even now it takes direct orders from Srisatkunarajah for this writer to be invited as a forner VC. He was not invited for this talk either, and had to be entreated by Srisatkunarajah to come. Arasaratnam with Prof. S. Sivasegaram, my colleague at Peradeniya Prof. J.B. Ekanayake and R.M.W. Ratnayake a Peradeniya electrical enginerer at CEB, ganged up and found this writer unqualified to be a mere Senior Lecturer in EE at Jaffna although he was senior to all of them as Senior Professor of Electrical Engineering at Peradeniya., let alone having been VC/Jaffna. According to an affidavit filed with the USAB by Carlo Fonseka, Arasaratnem had explained to Chandrika Bandaranaike, that a Christian in a high position at Jaffna would be problematic. At this talk holy ash was offered at the entrance, and in the University Boardroom Ramanathan’s Portrait is flanked by Hindu goddesses (not gods) on either side in a university where new sexual harassment of students is being charged, involving senior academics..
When I was made VC, two senior academics who supported me told me that I must first go to the temple and from there go and sit on the VC’s seat. It is clear why my appointment was problematic in this backward university. It is still problematic as former Head/Electrical T. Thiruvaran and the present Head K. Ahilan have threatened the Dean K. Pirapaharan if I am taken in as a Visiting Lecturer. Instead badly short-staffed Jaffna’s graduate students in the US teach using Zoom, little realizing how ineffectivd\e it is. Former Dean A. Atputharajah boasts to visitors that so long as he is there, I will not be allowed to step on to the campus.

The oldest extant Sinhalese work found is the Siyabas-lakara on rhetoric written, if it is correctly ascribed, by King Sena I somewhere in 831-851 SD (Geiger, 1938). I assert that there was no Sinhalese language during the time of the furnaces and therefore no Sinhalese people. (New evidence from Keeladi in South India suggests that the so-called Sinhalese Brahmi is Tamil Brahmi with minor differences). It was Tamil Buddhists who formed the nucleus of the new Sinhalese people. Even the eminent Sinhalese archaeologist Senake Bandaranayake has tried to suggest at the Open University that Pali originated in Sri Lanka and went to North India. Such is the fructuous imagination of Sinhalese scholarship.

Juleff shows the furnaces to be of seasonal use to exploit the Monsoon winds and that the technology spread from Sri Lanka Northeast to Burma and Japan (to make Samurai swords) and Eastwards to Sarawak and Cambodia. The carbon steel from these furnaces spread westward and was used to make the Damascus swords of the Arabs.

Prof. Farzana Haniffa of Colombo

The second paper by Prof. Farzana Haniffa is markedly different because she comes from a social activist position forged (I am picking up the metal-working language from Juleff) on her doctorate from Columbia and a fellowship at Cambridge besides experience as a director in high-powered NGOs and the Human Rights Commission.

Her subject for the talk was MICH, the Moors Islamic Cultural Home. She describes a fascinating story of Muslims seeking middle-class status and fulfilled that by the time of independence. In this quest, they who were primarily agriculturists represented themselves as traders. The English-speaking Middleclass they formed accounts for the Muslim dominance in the professions (university Registrars, lawyers etc.) that demand English fluency. She notes that they claimed to be “part of the contributing citizenry of the country” under the ideals of “national citizenship.”

The Muslim transition to modernity, she demonstrates through wedding photos. In a 19th century wedding the bride is seated on a chair wearing a veil. The groom’s party are on mats on the floor. The modest bride has her eyes cast down. In contrast, at the modern wedding, the brides’ hair is exposed and cut short. She is seen making conversation with the groom’s party. Their blouses have short sleeves. Thus, says she, the reintroduction of the Hijab in the 1980s generated widespread resentment after a long period of sartorial independence enjoyed by women.

Haniffa describes the debate over whether Muslims should be called Moors or Muslims. The word Moor as I was taught comes from Maur because the Portuguese thought they were from Mauritania where they knew Muslims. The term Moor therefore \was suggestive of a foreign ancestry, and they soon settled on the word Muslim.

I am not going to describe these two papers because they are already printed and should appear online soon. My purpose is to use a little intellectual tickling the need for which is thrown up by the papers. The papers are both remarkably interesting.

Kailaspathy Hall was packed on the 20th although going by experience few students understand English. Many at these two lectures including Lecturers were in open slippers which showed that they had not come into the modern world yet. At Peradeniya Engineering we insisted that students come in closed shoes. I venture that many students were told to come as a course requirement and they meekly obeyed.

This fluency and dexterity in English and the habit of wearing Bata slippers to important functions are both a measure of how much we read and how much we have moved from the old world into the new as, as Haniffa notes, the Muslims have done.

Fluency and Dexterity in English

To show the importance of English fluency by example, a Jaffna Vice Chancellor had once written a 1-page letter to the Japanese Embassy for computers after the Tigers removed all computers and abandoned them in a field because they could not cross with them to the mainland. The SLA shot to pieces what the Tigers could not carry across thinking they were booby-trapped. This prompted someone to crack “We are now following the Open University” with classes in the open fields.

The Japanese could not take the VC’s proposal to be authentic because of the poor grammar on paper crookedly fed into the typewriter and because there was no justification for the need. I was asked by my cousin, the then Commissioner General of Essential Services to whom the Japan Embassy referred the matter, to write a proper proposal and it was funded as I learnt from a newspaper report of a handing over ceremony. That is Jaffna, where credit is stolen and any sign of excellence is feared.

In this intellectually warped Jaffna, after all horrid things the Tigers did, they are still worshiped. The new leader of the Federal Party Shritharan, as his first task as Leader visited the Kanakapuram cemetery  on 22 March 2023 and commemorated the deceased LTTE cadres. Shritharan has reportedly said that Prabhakaran is our true leader and has paid no respect so far to SJV Chelvanayakam’s memorial.

Ponnambalam Ramanathan being adulated like this at Jaffna University is similar. Just as much as we do not know the real Arumuganavalar, we do not know the real Ponnambalam Ramanathan either.

How many of us know that Ramanathan (supported by Navalar) wanted low caste children to be seated on the floor outside the classroom and opposed their schooling? Prof. K. Sivathamby has documented this in the Social Scientists Association’s literature. Today we do not want to be reminded of these about our National Hero Ramanathan.

Navalar also misled the public saying Ramanathan “was educated” at Presidency College (whereas he was sacked) and endorsed his appointment to the legislature. That Ramanathan was educated at Presidency College is technically true but he never finished his education there. He was dismissed for “youthful excesses”. I have friends who were prey to Madras’ vices – drugs, women and liquor. Ramantahan also had a fascination with his own physique going for excessive bodybuilding. His dismissal was an embarrassment to my ancestor C.W. Thamotharampillai who was his and his elder bother Coomrasamy’s guardian in Madras. Coomarasamy too was sent back.

Kumari Jayawardene in her book From Nobodies to Somebodies suggests the British Governor was bribed through loans from the Ramanathan family to appoint Ramanathan to the Legislature over Britto. Britto was better qualified and preferred by the public notes A.J. Wilson. The Governor was sent back to the UK in punishment.

There are also unexplained questions over how Ramanathan’s wife fell in the well and died at a time Ramanathan was travelling in a private railway coach alone with a white devotee and was spending a lot of time with her – a woman he married soon after his wife’s drowning. At the university no one will touch on the topic. Accident? Suicide? Murder? No one thinks to remember his first wife. All that the Wikipedia says of her is the following with the conflict in saying he had three daughters and naming only two:

Ramanathan married Sellachchi Ammal, daughter of Mudaliyar E. Nannithamby, in 1874 at Ward Place, Colombo. They had three sons (Mahesan, Rajendra and Vamadeven) and three daughters (Sivakolunthu, Rukmini). After being widowed Ramanathan married Australian R. L. Harrison (later known as Leelawathy).

This was similar to Haniffa saying that MICH had four founders and listing five.

It is time for Jaffna University to look into Ramanathan fully, ignoring Saiva-Vellala Heritage Histories. Memorial speakers too must think carefully on whether they want to support made up images of our heroes by consenting to be speaker. It is good for us also to think who our national heroes really are. Is wearing holy ash and advocating Hinduism the only reasons for picking them?

Jaffna Inviting the Muslim scholar Prof. Haniffa is a step in the right direction of the urgently required change after what we did to Muslims in Oct. 1990.

Production of Written Talk Documents

We naturally judge the quality of a paper by the quality of the writing. As G.H. Fowler said, woolly writing shows woolly thinking. The two talks are elegantly produced as attractive booklets by Guru Printers of Thirunelvely with no editorial or copy-editing support. That tells! I make the point that anything printed in a university’s name must reflect university quality or it is bad for the university’s name.

For booklets coming out of a university, no editing or proof-reading has been done. Like anyone’s writing, the two booklets contain errors that could have been corrected, particularly when the university has two departments devoted to teaching English. They should have overseen quality. For example the VC uses the clumsy phrase “every premises and buildings which form the nucleus of our university… are closely associated with [Ramanathan].” This is also factually incorrect. The VC uses Ponnampalam with a p while Haniffa uses Ponnambalam with a b which is more common. The unwieldy phrase “several number” is also seen.

Words are dropped such as the word “of” in “case melting;” the word “a” in “head of long line;” and the word “to” in “in order ensure.” There is reference to an “appended paper” that is not there, probably because of a hurried cut-and-paste job. The repeated kind of mistake in both booklets is to have a singular subject followed by a plural clause and then to treat the subject as plural – or the other way round. Two examples from Juleff are a) Evidence in the form of sites, slags etc., demonstrate; b) gaseous reducing conditions that allows; and from Haniffa are  a) improvement of a community of people are to be achieved; and b) living in an atmosphere of trivialities and inanities fit only …

Juleff brings in Richard Dawkins’ word meme from his book The Selfish Gene (1976), to mean a unit of culture. She is carried away by the word and uses phrases that really do not elucidate but rather serve to confuse; for example,  a) memetically inherits; b) memetic inheritance; c) memetic transmission; and d) memetic behavioural pattern. Her book also confuses us with a preamble and then an abstract. She should have put more time into the production.


Jaffna University should be congratulated for bringing these talks to us. However, it needs to put more time into producing the booklets by forming a good publishing unit. To not do that is to patronise us as if we do not matter. Also at a time Tamil Hindus are arrested for worshipping at their religious sites the lawyers of Jaffna and the law faculty must play a  healthier role than they presently do. The university must stop foisting Hinduism on us, doing exactly what the Sinhalese state is doing in foisting Buddhism on minorities.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    Thank you, Prof Hoole,

    • 5

      Siva Sankaran Sharma,
      Kindly tell me how you beneficial is this article to us. I don’t want to miss thanking him myself!

      • 7

        Leaving his usual vitriol against Navalar and Ramanathan I found some parts of the article with regards to ancient Tamil Buddhism Sinhalese Tamil Brahmi etc. useful and beneficial and thanked him for these. Happy satisfied?

        • 5

          Siva Sankaran Sharma,
          I thought that your aim was to satisfy him. Don’t you realise that your reply to me did JUST THE OPPOSITE of what you intended for him. I’ll let it pass.

  • 2

    Interesting how Professor Hoole’s topics of focus have come to include fluency and dexterity of English including proof reading. What’s more interesting is even Bata slippers get mentioned. As far as proof reading goes, it seems even Exter is in short supply of the service.
    What is most interesting is that he praises Juleff as an accomplished author that has published, according to his own words, “a single-author cover story in Nature, a journal that many would give an arm and leg to get into.” Yet he challeges her premise with his own and I presume with no expertise in the fields of archeology or history.
    “Prof. Juleff’s work delves into excavated furnaces from Samanalawewa which she then reconstructed to conclude on their engineering principles.” – Has Professor Juleff published this work of hers? Professor Hoole doesn’t tell us. May be we are suppose to do our own ‘research’ and find out!?

  • 0


    The Entertainment provided by Prof: Hoole in this essay touches on a range of topics as different as chalk is from cheese………..
    He starts with about Lawyers fiddling with Land deeds, Bharatha Natyam and how God
    is invited to have Sex, the use and misuse of the English Language, bathroom slippers of undergrads,.
    The LTTE is also mentioned [ Writing about the Jaffna University leaving out the Jaffna Uni is like staging Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark ].

    What interested me most were the lines about Sir.P. Ramanathan. His first wife falling into a well while he was travelling by a Private coach with a white devotee etc etc.
    Well is this the call for Intellectual activity ?

    The good that men do are interred with their bones; It is only the bad that remains……….

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